Early evening summary
Liz Truss has said that it would be “unfair” to blame her mini-budget for interest rate rises last autumn. She made the comment in an interview with Spectator TV broadcast this afternoon (see 5.28pm), after she broke her post-premiership silence with a long article in the Sunday Telegraph yesterday about why she thinks her mini-budget crashed, forcing her removal from No 10. Keir Starmer said that she had done enough damage already and that his heart sank when he learnt she was speaking out again. (See 2.42pm.)
Downing Street has declined to rule out the UK withdrawing from the European convention on human rights if it was seen as needed to stop small boat crossings, despite serious misgivings among some Conservative MPs.
A union leader has accused the government of choosing to “punish” nurses after a health minister insisted there would be no re-examination of NHS pay for this year, as the health service in England faces what is expected to be the biggest strike in its history.
Miliband says thousands of people victims of government 'negligence' on prepayment meters
Turning back to prepayment meters (see 4.48pm), Ed Miliband, the shadow secretary for climate change and net zero, told MPs during his urgent question that thousands of customers had been forced onto prepayment meters because the government refused to ban the practice. He said:
The story of this scandal is of a government sitting on their hands and being far too slow to act.
Ofgem did reviews in September and November and highlighted the problem – where was the government?
[Graham Stuart, the energy minister] came to the house and refused an outright ban and now we know the result of his inaction – 30,000 people have had warrants issued for the forced installation of pre-payment meters in the last month alone, 6,000 people just in the last week alone since he said no to the ban.
That is thousands of people who are victims of government negligence.
How long will this pause that has finally been put in place last and would he pledge that it will not be lifted until this discredited, rotten system is properly reformed?
Turning back to the European convention on human rights, Colin Yeo, an immigration barrister, has posted an interesting thread on Twitter arguing that Rishi Sunak make a huge mistake when he promised to stop the boats. It starts here.
Truss says it is 'unfair' to blame her mini-budget for interest rates going up
The Spectator has released the transcript of its interview with Liz Truss, and the full exchange went live on Spectator TV at 5pm. Fraser Nelson, the magazine’s editor, and Katy Balls, its political editor, were interviewing Truss.
It was not the most hostile interview of her career, and much of what she said in it just echoed what she said in her Sunday Telegraph article yesterday. In that piece, she argued that her mini-budget would have worked had it not been for the market instability caused by the extent to which pension funds were relying on liability driven investments (LDIs), which were very vulnerable to increases in long-term gilt yields (long-term government borrowing costs). As David Gauke, a former Tory Treasury minister, pointed out yesterday she ignored the fact that it was the mini-budget that caused the market turmoil that destabilished LDIs, not the LDIs that caused the market turmoil.
Here are the lines that stood out from the interview.
Truss claimed that it was “unfair” to blame the mini-budget for the hike in interest rates that happened immediately afterwards. She said:
On the mortgage point I do want to address this – because we’ve been living in a very low interest rate world and mortgage rates have been going up. The reason there was a specific issue around the time we’re talking about in September, a lot of it is to do with the liability driven investments [LDIs] and the impact they had on the market. So I don’t think it’s fair to blame interest rises on what we did. I think that’s unfair.
This is not the view of most economists. The Bank of England raises interest rates the day before the mini-budget but, as the Bank of England explained in a memo to the Treasury committee last autumn, long-term gilt yields – the cost of government borrowing – went up sharply after the mini-budget. And it was this that led many mortgage providers to significantly increase the interest rates they were charging UK customers.
Truss claimed that she had “learnt a lot” from her time in government. Asked if she was the right person to be making the case for her low-tax, pro-growth beliefs, given how her premiership ended, she replied:
Nobody would be more delighted than me if there were lots of other people coming forward and making these arguments. I would be more than delighted to have other people go out there and make the case. But the fact is there aren’t enough people making the case, full stop.
And I believe that I’ve learnt a lot in my time in government, I understand what some of the pitfalls are, I’ve been through the mill on this and we do need to do things differently.
She said she would not want to be PM again. Asked if she wanted the job again, she said: “No”. But she said she wanted to carry on making the arguments for her beliefs. She said:
I definitely want to be part of promoting a pro-growth agenda. I definitely want to carry on as an MP. I’m positive about the future of Britain and I’m positive about the future of the Conservative party. I think we need to start building more of a strong intellectual base. But I’m not desperate to get back into Number 10, no.’
She did not apologise for anything that happened during her premiership, either to voters, some of whom were affected by the economic consequences of what happened, or to her party, which has seen its ratings plummet in the opinion polls as a result. She did not apologise in her Sunday Telegraph article either. To be fair, she was not asked in the interview to apologise. But a more self-aware politician may have concluded that some sort of apology was in order.
Energy companies are being told to compensate customers who have had prepayment meters fitted 'inappropriately', MPs told
Energy companies have been told to pay compensation to customers who have “inappropriately had a prepayment meter fitted”, Graham Stuart, the energy minister, told MPs.
Responding to an urgent question about customers being forced to have prepayment meters, including vulnerable people who were supposed to qualify for special treatment, Stuart said he was shocked by the revelations about this in the Times last week. He said:
I was appalled to see reports that vulnerable customers struggling with their energy bills have had their homes invaded and pre-payment meters installed when there is a clear duty on suppliers to provide them with support.
Magistrated have already been told to stop issuing warrants allowing companies to force their way into homes to install prepayment meters.
Stuart said that he had discussed the situation with the head of Ofgem this morning. And he said Grant Shapps, the business secretary, “has asked suppliers to set out by … tomorrow how they will make redress to customers who have inappropriately had a prepayment meter fitted, including the possibility of compensation”.
Stuart said he looked forward to seeing what suppliers were going to do.
Security minister suggests government split over whether to put Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on list of terror groups
Tom Tugendhat, the security minister, has signalled there are UK government splits over moves to add the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to a list of banned terrorist organisations, PA Media reports. PA says:
During Home Office questions, Tugendhat said both he and home secretary Suella Braverman are “as one” on taking further steps against the IRGC as MPs pressed the government to act.
But Tugendhat also told the Commons “it’s not me he has to persuade in this matter” after Conservative Bob Blackman asked for the IRGC to be proscribed in its entirety.
The Times last week reported plans to proscribe the IRGC have stalled after the Foreign Office raised concerns about keeping communication channels open with the Iranian regime.
MPs last month unanimously supported a non-binding motion urging the UK government to make it a criminal offence to be a member of or invite support for Iran’s IRGC.
Turning back to the European convention on human rights, Peter Ricketts, the former national security adviser, says that if the UK were to withdraw from the convention, it would lose all law enforcement cooperation with the EU.
Both of Rishi Sunak’s immediate predecessors are speaking out today. Liz Truss has given an interview to Spectator TV that is being shown at 5pm, and Boris Johnson has just made a rare intervention in the House of Commons.
Speaking during Home Office questions, Johnson defended the plan to deport people arriving on small boats to claim asylum to Rwanda, and claimed that Labour had “not the ghost of an idea” as to how to address the problem.
Isn’t it obvious from today’s exchanges that many of those who oppose the UK-Rwanda migration and economic development partnership have no idea about Rwanda, have probably never been there, and are wholly wrong to condescend and to disparage Rwanda in the way that they do.
And, above all, they have not the ghost of an idea about how to solve the problem of cross channel gangs putting people at risk. And the difference between our side and them is we have a plan and they don’t.
Tory MPs cheered, and Suella Braverman, the home secretary, said Johnson had put it very well.
Prepayment meters: magistrates told to stop allowing forced installations
Magistrates have been ordered to stop issuing warrants allowing energy firms to force fit prepayment meters in England and Wales, my colleague Alex Lawson reports.
Faisal Islam from the BBC has posted on Twitter a copy of the memo sent to magistrates by Lord Justice Edis, the senior presiding judge for England and Wales.
97% of passport applications now being processed within three weeks, Braverman tells MPs
In the Commons Suella Braverman, the home secretary, is taking Home Office questions. MPs have just reached the topical questions bit (when they can ask about anything, not a question tabled days in advance), and Braverman started by making a short statement about the Passport Agency.
She said that last spring there were “serious concerns” about its performance. When she took office, she was determined to address this, she said.
She said the system is now operating well, and that last week 99% of applications were being returned within the 10-week target deadline. And 97% of them were being returned within three weeks, she said.
Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Speaker, reprimanded Braverman for using question time to make a statement. He said that if she wanted to make a formal announcement, she should have scheduled a statement. He suggested he would be willing to grant an urgent question on this tomorrow.
Sturgeon publishes tax returns for her time as first minister, and says she is taking £27,000 less in salary than she could
Nicola Sturgeon has urged other Scottish and UK party leaders to publish their tax returns after releasing hers during her time as Scotland’s first minister.
At a press briefing on Monday morning, Sturgeon said she paid the full tax on her official total salary of £163,299 – a figure which includes her MSP’s salary and ministerial wage, even though she took the salaries paid in 2008.
She said Douglas Ross, the Scottish Conservative leader, and Anas Sarwar, should “follow suit”. She said: “The reason I do this today [is] it does help with transparency.”
As a political gesture announced by her predecessor Alex Salmond, Scottish National party ministers and MSPs have voluntarily forgone salary rises since 2009, donating the difference back to the government.
The SNP said that meant Sturgeon would forgo £27,000 in salary this financial year – a sacrifice which still leaves her with a gross salary of £136,299, which is five times the average wage in Scotland. The SNP said its ministers had refunded £1.3m in total since 2009.
Rishi Sunak, who is also due to publish his tax returns, is entitled to a salary of £80,807 as prime minister on top of his MP’s wage of £84,144; he only claims £75,440 as premier.
'My heart sinks ... she has done more than enough damage to the economy' - Starmer ridicules Liz Truss's comeback
Nothing is more satisfying for an opposition leader than being able to speak up on behalf of the whole country. Downing Street did not have a great deal to say about the Liz Truss comeback this morning (see 1.01pm), and so Keir Starmer had the field to himself this morning when asked for his reaction to her return to frontline political debate.
My heart sinks when I hear more from Liz Truss. She’s done more than enough damage to our economy. And, frankly, when the whole country wants to move forward, we’ve got a cost of living crisis, we’ve got people really worried about being able to pay their bills, they’re looking for a government to take them forward, and all we’ve got is failed prime ministers arguing about who was the biggest failure. That’s the last thing the country needs just right at the moment.
Not everyone will agree, but there is almost certainly widespread support for Starmer’s take. Only last week a poll suggested just 6% of voters think Rishi Sunak is a worse PM than Truss, and even Conservatives have been telling journalists they wish she would shut up.
The Truss intervention is a godsend for the Labour party. Starmer’s leadership is well established and there is no faction in the party seriously arguing for a different approach.
But Rishi Sunak has to compete with two predecessors who are very popular with Tory activists and who have distinct policy agendas. (The Truss and Boris Johnson agendas overlap up to a point – they both want tax cuts and a hawkish foreign policy – but in other respects their brands of Conservatism are at odds.) Even if there is no realistic prospect of Truss being elected leader again (and only little chance of Johnson getting another go), the fact that they both have loyal supporters, and offer an alternative to Sunak, is hugely destabilising.
Interestingly, the Tory papers are also, to some extent, split in their allegiances. Of the three most important pro-Conservative titles, the Telegraph is sympathetic to Truss, or at least her ideas, the Mail is most pro-Johnson, while Sunak is probably getting most support from the Sun.
The Foreign Office has announced that the UK is sending 76 UK search and rescue specialists, four search dogs and rescue equipment to Turkey to help it deal with the aftermath of the earthquake. In a news release that uses the Turkish government’s preferred spelling of the country’s name, James Cleverly, the foreign secretary, said:
The UK is sending immediate support to Türkiye including a team of 76 search & rescue specialists, equipment and rescue dogs.
In Syria, the UK-funded White Helmets have mobilised their resources to respond.
We stand ready to provide further support as needed.
More than 1,700 people are now known to have died in the earthquake. We are covering it on a separate live blog here.
UK government needs 'to talk and to listen' to resolve health strikes, says Welsh government minister
Eluned Morgan, the Welsh government’s health minister, has told PA Media that she hopes health workers in Wales will accept the revised offer tabled at the end of last week. She also implied that, if the dispute went on into April, the extra money for the deal might no longer be available. She explained:
Obviously the final decision will be by the members of these unions. But I think what’s important is that they understand that this is the only deal in town.
The end of the financial year is coming very soon, and obviously the money disappears at the end of the financial year so that there is an issue for people to consider there.
So I do hope that people recognise that we’ve worked really hard on this, that we are restricted in how much we can offer because of the money we get from the UK government.
Morgan also said the UK government should follow the example set by the Welsh government. She said:
I do think that there’s a lesson here for the UK government – UK government needs to understand that in order to get any kind of deal you need to sit down you need to talk and you need to listen.
They’re not doing any of that, and I would encourage them to do that.
Steve Barclay says pay talks with union should focus on next year's offer, not current deal
At the Downing Street lobby briefing the PM’s spokesperson said the government wanted pay talks with the health unions to focus on next year’s pay offer, not the 2022-23 pay offer, which is what the current dispute is about.
Steve Barclay, the health secretary, said the same thing to journalists while on a visit to Kingston hospital in south-west London. He said:
We have been discussing this coming year, from April, pay with the unions.
We have this process through the pay review body, it’s an independent process and we’re keen to get the evidence so that that reflects the pressure that the NHS has been under and the wider context in terms of inflation.
I don’t think it’s right to go back to last year, to last April, retrospectively, we should be looking forward to the pay review body that is taking evidence now and working constructively with the trade unions.
No 10 delivers rebuke to Truss, saying it values OBR for its 'credible, high quality' analysis
Rishi Sunak is fond of reading long and detailed government reports. But No 10 was unable to say this morning whether or not he had ploughed through Liz Truss’s 4,000-word Sunday Telegraph article, which has been much criticised for its suggestion that almost everyone was to blame for the failure of her disastrous mini-budget apart from herself.
Asked if Sunak agreed with Truss’s claim that Britain was being held back by “economic orthodoxy” that was anti-growth (she implied in the article Sunak was part of that, but did not say so explicitly), the spokesperson declined to engage with the argument.
But he did implicitly slap down Truss over one aspect of her argument. In her article she criticised the Office for Budget Responsibility, saying that the way it modelled economic policy “tends to undervalue the benefits of low taxes and supply-side reforms for economic growth, and overvalue the benefits of public spending”.
She said this was one reason why taxes kept going up.
This [the bias in the OBR approach] inevitably puts pressure on a higher-tax and higher-spend outcome – hence the inexorable tax rises we are now seeing.
At the lobby briefing, without even being asked specifically about the OBR, the spokesperson said:
In broader terms, we value the scrutiny of independent bodies like the OBR. The chancellor is working closely with them in the lead-up to the spring budget, as you would expect. And they will have a role in providing independent, credible and high quality analysis.
We are making the fiscal decisions to get inflation down, which in turn will help us grow the economy. And you will hear from the chancellor in more detail shortly. The prime minister at the least was I haven’t actually been able to ask him that question. So see widespread coverage. You read it I don’t ask questions about myself.
Asked if the PM welcomed his predecessors contributing to the public debate, the spokesperson said: “Of course the prime minister will listen to all former prime ministers.”
There are two urgent questions in the Commons after 3.30pm, both tabled by shadow cabinet ministers. Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, is asking about the NHS strikes, and Ed Miliband, the shadow climate change secretary, has tabled a UQ about energy companies forcing customers to have prepayment meters.
No 10 says Sunak 'confident' his asylum crackdown will comply with ECHR - but won't firmly rule out withdrawal in future
At the morning lobby briefing Downing Street insisted that the bill due to be published soon intended to stop people arriving illegally in the UK on small boats from ever claiming asylum in the country would be compliant with the European convention on human rights.
Asked if the government was planning to withdraw from the convention, the PM’s spokesperson said:
I think there’s been a great deal of speculation. I think you’ve heard from the prime minister himself where he said, first and foremost, he wants to put an end to the exploitation of our laws through reform of that system.
We will, of course, comply with all our international obligations, and we are confident the measures being worked through will tackle the problem while being compliant with the ECHR [European convention on human rights].
But none of the reports about what the proposed bill will do (like yesterday’s – see 11.20am) say the legislation will propose withdrawal from the ECHR. Instead what is being claimed is that, if the courts do subsequently block the Sunak plan on human rights ground, at that point he would consider proposing withdrawal – possibly as a pledge for the next general election.
Asked about this, the spokesperson said he did not want to get into “unsourced speculation on future plans”. Asked if there were any circumstance in which Sunak would recommend withdrawal from the ECHR, the spokesperson said:
As I say, I think you will see, when we set out our plans fairly shortly, that we seek to be compliant with our international obligations.
Some Tories think the proper answer to this question is: No. (See 11.20am)
Asked a second time if he could rule this out, the spokesperson said:
There are no plans for the government to take that approach. The policy, both in terms of this and elsewhere, is to be compliant with our international obligations.
Unite says it is 'tantalisingly close' to agreement on pay with Welsh government
On Friday the Royal College of Nursing and several other health unions called for strikes planned for Wales this week after the Welsh government made fresh proposals on pay. But Unite, which represents some ambulance staff, said it was not calling off its strike because it was still negotiating.
Today Sharon Graham, the Unite general secretary, said her union was “tantalisingly close” to a deal with the Welsh government. She said:
The reason that we’re still out in Wales is that it would be disingenuous for us to put an offer to pause the strike in the full knowledge the offer was going to get rejected.
What we want is not a sticking plaster – we want to have a deal on the table that will be accepted.
I spoke to the health minister in Wales on a number of occasions yesterday; we’re tantalisingly close.
The sticking point really is [of the] the extra 3% – half of it is on non-consolidated, so therefore it’s a one-off payment.
And what we’re simply asking is to put more of that on the wages, so that people have that forever, it’s in their pay packet, because that will address some of the concerns.
Sharon Graham, the Unite general secretary, has also criticised ministers again for refusing to engage in meaningful talks on pay. She told PA Media this morning:
This government has not at any time in this dispute come to the table about the substantive issue on pay, and that is the real issue. There isn’t going to be any other way to end this dispute until they come to the table and talk about pay.
They said on many occasions that they’re in constructive talks; first of all, I don’t know what those constructive talks are – they are certainly not on pay.
And, secondly, I can’t put constructive talks on a ballot paper. What we need is the talks to happen with Rishi Sunak or/and Stephen Barclay on pay, we can get an offer and then we can put that off to the members.
That’s what needs to happen. Until that happens, we are in this constant cycle of having strike action, which obviously nobody wants.
Our members do not want to be on strike. They want to be at work serving the country.
Starmer says people will be 'flabbergasted' ministers refusing to negotiate with health unions on current pay offer for England
Keir Starmer has condemned the UK government for refusing to reopen talks with the unions on pay for health staff in England. He said people would be “absolutely flabbergasted” that ministers were refusing to negotiate.
Speaking to reporters on a visit to Airbus in Filton, near Bristol, Starmer said today’s NHS strikes were “a badge of shame for the government”. He went on:
Nobody wants to see these strikes, nobody wants to be on strike – the last thing nurses want to do is to be on strike.
What they do want is a government that can show leadership, get around the negotiating table and settle this dispute.
Before Christmas, the nurses made clear that if the government was to get in the room and talk to them about pay, they wouldn’t be on strike.
I think many people listening to this will be absolutely flabbergasted that the government is still sitting this one out, not showing any leadership in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis, making the situation much worse than it otherwise would be.
Ministers say there have been talks, but the government says it will not reopen the pay offer for the current financial year and the unions say there are no talks taking place on the current pay offer.
Here is a Guardian video by my colleagues Adam Sich and Maeve Shearlaw on why so many public sector workers have been on strike this winter.
Sunak warned taking UK out of European convention on human rights would cross 'red line' for many Tory MPs
Senior Tories have expressed concern about reports that Rishi Sunak may be willing to take the UK out of the European convention on human rights if that turns out to be the only way to stop the courts blocking his plan to ban all people arriving in small boats across the Channel from claiming asylum in the UK.
Sunak has promised to publish legislation to implement this promise shortly and, according to a report by Tim Shipman in the Sunday Times, this could put the government on course to make withdrawal from the EHCR a manifesto commitment at the next election.
In his story Shipman said:
Sunak and Suella Braverman, the home secretary, are finalising plans for the most draconian immigration legislation seen in this country. Officials say the plans, to be unveiled within weeks, will take Britain to the “boundaries” of international law.
But senior figures say if judges at the European court of human rights in Strasbourg rule that the new plans are unlawful, the prime minister is open to withdrawing from the convention.
“The PM has been clear he wants to introduce legislation that meets our international obligations,” a source familiar with Sunak’s thinking said. “This bill will go as far as possible within international law. We are pushing the boundaries of what is legally possible, while staying within the ECHR. And we are confident that when it is tested in the courts, we will win.
Sir Robert Buckland, a Tory former justice secretary, told the Financial Times that leaving the convention, which is overseen by the Council of Europe, would be a mistake. He said:
It would be an undesirable state of affairs if the UK was to follow Russia out of the Council of Europe … I don’t think there would be a majority for it.
Sir Bob Neill, the Conservative chair of the Commons justice committee, told the same paper that this would be a “red line” for many people in the party. He said:
If Conservatives don’t believe in the rule of law, what do we believe in? Are we going to put ourselves in the same company as Russia and Belarus?
It’s not a virtue to push the law to the limits. Adherence to and membership of the ECHR is a red line for many Conservatives. It would be unbelievable for a Conservative government to leave it.
According to Eleni Courea, in today’s London Playbook briefing from Politico, the Tory backbencher Jackie Doyle-Price also dismissed that idea in a message on a WhatsApp group for Conservative MPs. In a message seen by Courea, Doyle-Price said that “willy waving about leaving the ECHR will do zilch”. Doyle-Price went on:
I have been a member of the Conservative party for 36 years. This group leaves me cold. Upholding the law should never be a matter for debate for a Conservative. Our Home Office is crap. If the government wants to have a phone[y] war over the ECHR instead of sorting itself out it can do it without me.
RCN leader Pat Cullen says ministers have talked to unions, but not about pay
Pat Cullen, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, has accused ministers in England of refusing to discuss pay with health unions. Despite Maria Caulfield, the health minister, saying this morning that talks did take place last month (see 9.14am), Cullen said that in her three meetings with Steve Barclay, the health secretary, he was willing to discuss “anything but pay”.
She told Times Radio:
We can’t get to a table in England. The nurses in England have found that this government time and time again, has just turned their back on them, and I’ve said loud and clear, punishing them.
I wrote to the prime minister on Saturday, and I’ve yet to get a response, knowing that there’s two days of industrial action today and tomorrow, that is no way to treat the nurses of England.
Tony Connelly, RTE’s Europe editor, has a report revealing new details of what he says has been agreed between the UK and the EU on the Northern Ireland protocol.
He says the EU has accepted the UK demand that goods going from Britain to Northern Ireland that are not meant to cross the border into Ireland should be treated separately from goods that are destined for Ireland (which is in the EU). Crucially, Connelly says, this NI-only “green lane” will cover sanitary and phytosanitary rules, as well as customs requirements.
Goods going through the “green lane” will be subject to minimal checks and scrutiny, and Connelly says this is because the EU now has access to GB customs data in real time. He reports:
According to how the IT-based system will work, information in real time will show if there are any suspicious movements between GB and Northern Ireland, and if red flags are raised lorries can be checked by UK Border Force …
[The senior EU official] would not be drawn on whether goods entitled to use the green lane would be exempt from all customs declarations, including the need for traders to pre-fill so-called commodity codes electronically in advance, and SPS formalities.
Given that EU officials will be entitled to download information on the content and form of goods going through the virtual green lane, it is assumed that a degree of data will be required.
Connelly says that the row over the role of the European court of justice in adjudicating on protocol disputes is still “difficult” and he quotes a source suggesting a deal is unlikely to be announced this week.
Caulfield claims 'vast majority' of hospital patients in England won't be affected by today's strike
And here are some more lines from Maria Caulfield, the health minister, speaking for the government on the morning interview round.
Caulfield claimed that the “vast majority” of hospital patients in England would not be affected by today’s strikes. She told LBC that “less than half of all trusts in England” were experiencing nurse strikes. She went on:
For the vast majority of patients, they won’t be affected in terms of going to procedures and appointments and operations.
If their trust is affected, they would have been in touch with them to let them know what’s happening.
She expressed doubt that the increased pay offer to health workers in Wales would resolve the strikes. Most health unions in Wales called off this weeks after the Welsh government tabled a revised offer so that their members can consider it. But, when asked why the UK government was not doing the same for health workers in England, Caulfield told the Today programme:
The offer in Wales, 3%, is only actually a 1.5% pay increase, and then another 1.5% lump sum payment. And that is being put to members in Wales. A much higher offer was put to members in Scotland before Christmas and was rejected. So we are in no means in Wales out of the woods in terms of a deal being done.
She insisted that offering an above-inflation pay high rise to nurses would fuel inflation. But when the Today presenter Justin Webb put it to her paying staff more in the NHS would not lead to prices going up (as paying staff more does in firms that fund pay rises by charging customers more), and asked Caulfield to explain what the “mechanism” was by which a pay rise would fuel inflation, Caulfield dodged the question. She replied:
It’s not just about fuelling inflation. It’s paying for it.
When Webb put it to her that the government’s case wasn’t, then, about the inflation risk after all, Caulfield replied:
It’s a combination of both. If you give above-inflation pay rises, that would in fuel inflation. But we’re talking about – in Wales they’ve got 3% on the table. But we have to pay for it.
And at the moment we are borrowing record amounts of money. We’re seeing interest rates that have gone up because we’ve got record levels of borrowing. So it is the whole financial picture that has to be taken into consideration.
She said the decision by health unions to withdraw from the pay review body process for England for 2023-24 “doesn’t help at all”.
She said it would be “extremely difficult” to include this year’s pay settlement in any fresh talks with unions.
She admitted that today’s strikes posed a risk to patients. She told Sky News:
There is a risk to patients the longer that strikes go on.
So if your operation is cancelled the first time, there is probably a minimum risk. If that’s cancelled time and time again because of ongoing strikes, then patients become more poorly and there is always a risk.
And with ambulance strikes, if someone’s having a heart attack or a stroke, that does increase someone’s risk the longer that response time is.
Robert Buckland confirms row with Dominic Raab when both were in cabinet over British bill of rights
Robert Buckland has confirmed that he and Dominic Raab had “a disagreement” when they were both in cabinet, after it was reported Raab tried to get Buckland sacked as Welsh secretary last year amid a fallout over policy, my colleague Peter Walker reports.
Health minister Maria Caulfield hits back at claim government no longer talking to unions on pay
Good morning. Scotland and Wales have had devolved governments for more than 20 years, but it probably was not until Covid that people realised the extent to which, when it comes to health policy, the UK government is just an England government. Today England is seeing what is being described as the worst day of disruption in health this winter, with nurses and ambulance staff both on strike. But health workers are not on strike in Scotland, and there is only a limited ambulance strike in Wales by members of the Unite union. England is different because the Scottish and Welsh governments have made improved pay offers, but the
UK England government is not doing the same.
Yesterday Sharon Graham, the Unite general secretary, said UK government ministers were lying when they said pay talks with unions were still taking place.
This morning Maria Caulfield, a health minister, was the government’s designated voice on the morning interview programmes. She did not have anything new to announce, but she hit back at claims that ministers were unwilling to talk to the unions. She told the Today programme:
What I would say … to the RCN, as [is] happening in Scotland, they’ve called off the strikes to discuss the forthcoming year’s pay settlement from April, which is just a few weeks away – do the same in England.
The secretary of state’s been meeting in January, almost on a weekly basis, with a range of health care unions. So the door is firmly open. And I would ask the RCN and the ambulance unions to get back round the table.
I will post more from Caulfield’s interview round shortly.
Here is the agenda for the day.
11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.
Morning: Keir Starmer and Jonathan Reynolds, the shadow business secretary, are on a visit in Bristol. Starmer is expected to record a TV interview.
2.30pm: Suella Braverman, the home secretary, takes questions in the Commons.
Afternoon: Peers debate the retained EU law (revocation and reform) bill.
5pm: Spectator TV broadcasts its interview with Liz Truss – her first since she left No 10.
I’ll try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.
If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter. I’m on @AndrewSparrow.
Alternatively, you can email me at email@example.com